Addendum blog post #3

(Note: Vernon Gerard, author of With Hillary at Scott Base: A Kiwi Among the Penguins, and owner of the Old Antarctic Days blog, visited the Philippines recently. The following blog post was written by Vernon himself. It was digitized from his handwritten notes and uploaded by his niece,  Bhex.)

Vernon Gerard of Old Antarctic Days in the Philippines circa June 2016

The author in the Philippines, June 2016
(92 years old)

Following the Moon Landing in the 1950’s-60’s, the Orion project was conceived by boffins in the USA and Germany, although people now hate the concept of atomic energy. This backlash against all things atomic came following the A-bombs which destroyed Hiroshima and 3 days later Nagasaki too and finished WWII very suddenly.

It might have been thought that the very successful moon landing would have given space flight a great boost. But just a few years later the USA destroyed an island in the Pacific using one of the new H-bombs. People revolted against anything with a whiff of plutonium as described by the N.Z. Prime Minister David Lange to a debate at the Oxford Union.

But boffins, especially in Germany, saw the potential of the Bomb to propell a space ship to the great velocity needed to reach Mars & the asteroids suitable for landings. The idea was to simply explode a small A-bomb about every 10 seconds behind your space ship to give it the required final velocity. To us it sounds crazy, but the boffins of that era (1960’s) thought it would work. You needed an effective shock absorber behind the space ship and the development would involve tests in perhaps the Nevada desert or near the S. Pole or somewhere where there was no great objection.

After a dozen tests or even less, you do come off with a real nifty device. Atmospheric air does not impede the ship because you started off in space anyway. Of course some minor rockets would be needed for direction correction and any boffin can think up all sorts of objections to the scheme. Just get thinking and do it! With all the US War II dollars and Plutonium (Pu) the US (and others) just dropped all the ideas. But sometime it will be revived.

Addendum blog post #2

(Note: Vernon Gerard, author of With Hillary at Scott Base: A Kiwi Among the Penguins, and owner of the Old Antarctic Days blog, visited the Philippines recently. The following blog post was written by Vernon himself. It was digitized from his handwritten notes and uploaded by his niece,  Bhex.)

Vernon Gerard of Old Antarctic Days in the Philippines circa June 2016
The author in the Philippines, June 2016 (92 years old)

Things happen when they will. A life-time ago I was at school. I’m 92 now. The casual scientific talk was then of going to the moon for we had all seen or heard of the V2 rockets in the war that had just ended. No one said it would be easy. Now, 2016, the talk is of going to the stars, especially a planet of one of the α Cent. stars. By comparison, going to planets would be easy. The mood of the people is like it was before the Moon landing, way back. Even my university proff laughed at the idea. But Von-Braun didn’t. The same mood is felt when going to the planets of α Cent. is discussed. Will it happen?

The moon landing did. We are in an optimistic age but we better soon get the hang of climate control or our luck is out. The Manhattan Project which produced at least two approximately similar types of A bombs did, this was during WWII. Then both need and optimism were high.

When did the present age of optimism start and is it still around? Lots would say it started with the steam operated machines invented in the late 17th century. But this was followed early the next century by Faraday’s discoveries and then Clerk-Maxwell’s mathematical equations formulating the system of the electromagnetic field. This was IMPORTANT, leading, as it did, to radio, television & the rest, like radar, GPS etc. etc.

Now we await something similar to embrace the details of the gravity fields & quantum mechanics. In these we can’t remotely conceive of faster than light travel (this is when we can’t even remotely reach the speed of light with a solid object).

A corollary of this is that if this can be done, why don’t we see advanced civilizations travell around our galaxy. Why don’t they contact us? Or indeed, do they? And are smart enough not to reveal themselves. An old S.F. theme, but this needs answering.

A blog post as an addendum to “With Hillary at Scott Base”

(Note: Vernon Gerard, author of With Hillary at Scott Base: A Kiwi Among the Penguins, and owner of the Old Antarctic Days blog, visited the Philippines recently. The following blog post was written by Vernon himself. It was digitized from his handwritten notes and uploaded by his niece,  Bhex.)

Vernon Gerard of Old Antarctic Days in the Philippines circa June 2016
The author in the Philippines, June 2016 (92 years old)

New Zealanders, a.k.a. Kiwis are usually great travellers: it’s genetic. Oh yes, whether our ancestors were Maori or just plain common ‘European Kiwis’  we have an extensive travel gene bred into our bones. So it comes as little surprise, that when I tell someone, “I have been to Antarctica 3 times,” the response is almost always, “I know someone who went there.”

Me: “When was it?”

Him: “Oh, I don’t remember,” but he was with the Americans or on the N.Z. Frigates.” They went south with Hillary as far as the pack ice in about 1956.

Me: “Did they winter-over?”

Him: “Oh no. It got too tough to stay in the rockies so they buggered off back to N.Z.”

Me: “It doesn’t count until you have actually wintered south of the circle.”

Him: “Did you?”

Me: “Oh yes, I was with Hillary and was one of the group who actually chose the site, built Scott Base.”

This usually shuts people up, because many have been on ice as far as the pack ice, but few have actually wintered south of the circle which, is what is meant when people say they have been to the S. Pole or Antarctic. For it was this expedition which took Hillary to the Pole — the first to make it back alive since Amundsen did it in 1912. Please remember Scott’s great expedition of 1912 died there — 5 brave men and lots of ponies lost their lives and froze to death just 11 miles from a food depot which they were too exhausted to reach.

Now Amundsen, from people who actually knew the man, was a tough guy, at home with his dogs who pulled his sledges. Unlike Scott, who, it seems, never mastered the Norwegian art of getting to know his dog teams but, sadly, not being above shooting his weaker dogs to feed the stronger ones. Did Hillary do this?

No, we had dogs but we relied on motor-driven tractors. For it was 1957 — a long time in fact 2 wars after 1912 and Scott’s disaster. Few know Scott had a primitive motor sledge but it was, in those early days, a failure.

We had reliable tractors, maybe not quite a masterpiece of 1956 engineering but pretty damn good, good enough. You can read about it in my book, “With Hillary at Scott Base: A Kiwi Among the Penguins.”

Let me put you in the 1956 picture: the present Queen was crowned in 1956 just as Hillary conquered Everest. The British who had regarded Everest as their prize after previous abortive attempts remember Mallory & Irvine, who died there.

I was in London not long after this from 1950 onwards. The mood there was not that they had lost, also, Everest but the S. Pole to one of their “Colonials” was what might be called a “disaster.” There was not a lot of the so-called British “Play the game & let the best team win” spirit. Rationing was still on, after that dreadful war against the Japanese & Nazis and only just won. Indeed the disaster could be seen all around London in the bomb sites.

So every guy who remotely knows a fellow who has been S. of the “circle” thinks he has been to the S. Pole. Like Hell he has! Just try some climbing in our Southern Alps and you will get to the bottom of this nonsense. I’ve not even climbed much at all but at least I did some skiing and earned Hillary’s comment that I did “OK.” Not well, mind you, but OK. Well enough to go in his 1957 expedition. In fact I said skiing  was a bit like riding a bicycle without wheels. An apt comment.

Hillary, who had been in the RNZAF (Royal New Zealand Air Force) in WWII did not give unearned praise. Also, I earned mine by going out to my magnetic observatory huts every 12 hours during the 1957 year when it was -70 oC or just a plain “Scott” blizzard of 25 mph wind in about -30 oC. Not much for Amundsen, say. But bad enough to freeze to death all 5 of Scott’s Pole party in 1912. Indeed my Polar Medal shows a representation of these men as it had seemed to the creators of the medal in later years.